For many people, tax season can be a little overwhelming. It is a language of law that can be confusing, often changes each year, and has many areas where mistakes can happen. Your Better Business Bureau of the Upstate wants to help you find a path to filing your taxes that is as stress-free as possible and that generates the best possible outcome for you and/or your business.
For many people in Upstate South Carolina, hiring a tax professional is the way to go. They know the laws, understand changes in tax code and are certified to help you make the best decision. If you choose to hire someone to prepare your federal income tax return, the IRS and your BBB urge you to choose that person or organization wisely. So you know, even if you don’t prepare your own return, you’re still legally responsible for what is reported on it.
Here are 11 useful tips to keep in mind when choosing a tax preparer:
- Before engagement, always check the preparer’s qualifications. All paid tax preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number or PTIN. In addition to asking for a PTIN, ask preparers which professional organization they affiliate with and if they attend continuing education classes to become aware of changes to tax law.
- Check the preparer’s history and reputation. Start with our website, upstatesc.bbb.org, to see if the preparer has a positive or questionable history.
- Ask about service fees before engagement. It may be wise to avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who say they can get larger refunds than others can. Always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
- Consider an e-file for your return. Your preparer should offer IRS e-file. If they don’t offer this, consider it a red flag. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must file the returns electronically. If you are weary of e-file, consider that the IRS has safely processed more than 1.2 billion e-filed tax returns.
- Collect and save your preparers contact information (email/phone/website). Even after the April 15 deadline, you may have questions come up about your tax return.
- Be sure to bring ALL records and receipts with you during your filing meeting. Good preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They’ll ask you questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
- Never EVER sign a blank return. Don’t use a tax preparer that asks you to sign a blank tax form. It is unethical and is certainly a red flag against the person you have hired to help you.
- Review your return before signing. Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions if something is not clear. This is your right!
- Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN. Paid preparers must sign returns and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return when it is finalized.
- Spare your neighbor a bad experience if you worked with a poor preparer. Be sure to report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or changed the return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. You can get these forms at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
- Share your experience with the community. Your BBB of the Upstate is here to help. File any complaints about tax preparers you've worked with through us and we will be sure to help others avoid getting caught in the same unfortunate situation.